SPECIAL COVERAGE
CHANDIGARH

LUDHIANA

DELHI


THE TRIBUNE SPECIALS
50 YEARS OF INDEPENDENCE

TERCENTENARY CELEBRATIONS
O P I N I O N S

Editorials | Article | Middle | Oped

EDITORIALS

Warning from Assam
Watch out, terrorists are out on the prowl
T
HE message of the three blasts in Guwahati on the New Year Day in which six persons were killed could not have been lost on the Central and state governments. They occurred hours before Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram reached the state to review security in the region. The blasts left him with no option but to rush to the sites and the hospitals to console the injured and the grief-stricken.

Signal from Dhaka
Hasina wants to throw out terrorists
T
wo highly significant statements have been made by Sheikh Hasina in her very first post-victory press conference. One, she has said that good relations with neighbours would be a major agenda of her government. That apparently means India in particular. Two, she asserted in no uncertain terms that she would not allow Bangladesh’s territory to be used for terrorism against its neighbours.





EARLIER STORIES

LeT’s admission
January 2, 2009
Hasina returns to power
January 1, 2009
Generational change
December 31, 2008
Sonrise
December 30, 2008
Voters’ victory
December 29, 2008
Transformation of polity
December 28, 2008
Abandoned by Pakistan
December 27, 2008
Triumph of democracy
December 26, 2008
Guillotine at work
December 25, 2008
Antics of Antulay
December 24, 2008


Poor results
Haryana schools need to pull up socks
N
ot too long ago, Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda vowed to make Haryana the number one state in education. But if the dismal results of the state-run schools are anything to go by, his promise was no better than empty rhetoric. The poor pass percentage of classes VIII and X in the first semester examination once again exposes the sorry state of education in the government schools.

ARTICLE

Rewriting the law
JPC report on office of profit a good beginning
by V. Eshwar Anand
T
HE Joint Parliamentary Committee Report on Office of Profit tabled in Parliament assumes special significance in the context of the controversy the issue had kicked off in 2006. The report is a good beginning to resolve the ticklish issue, though it is not the final answer. While Parliament has to enact legislation, based on the JPC report, one has to wait for the Supreme Court judgement on the constitutional validity of the Constitution (Prevention of Disqualification) Amendment Act, 2006.

MIDDLE

The talkative Indian
by S.S. Bhatti
P
rofessor Amartya Sen, the Nobel Laureate Economist, got it all wrong when he used the dubious term “The Argumentative Indian” in his “Writings on Indian History, Culture and Identity”. The Indian is “talkative” not “argumentative”.

OPED

Restructuring NSG
It should not be used for VIP security
by Lt Gen Raj Kadyan (retd)
A
slew of measures are invariably announced after a major national catastrophe. This is done not only to improve the functioning of the establishment but also to assuage the heightened public clamour for action. The recent terror attacks in Mumbai fall in the same category.

Corruption has made Egypt powerless
by Robert Fisk
T
here was a day when we worried about the “Arab masses” – the millions of “ordinary” Arabs on the streets of Cairo, Kuwait, Amman, Beirut – and their reaction to the constant bloodbaths in West Asia. Could Anwar Sadat restrain the anger of his people? And now – after three decades of Hosni Mubarak – can Mubarak (or “La Vache Qui Rit”, as he is still called in Cairo) restrain the anger of his people?

Inside Pakistan
Extremism: no respite in sight
by Syed Nooruzzaman
Pakistan is unable to ensure that its writ runs in most parts of the tribal areas. Bomb blasts, cases of extortion, kidnappings and other such incidents involving religious extremists continue to be reported frequently.

  • Q. Khan’s economic tips

  • Energy crisis


Top








EDITORIALS

Warning from Assam
Watch out, terrorists are out on the prowl

THE message of the three blasts in Guwahati on the New Year Day in which six persons were killed could not have been lost on the Central and state governments. They occurred hours before Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram reached the state to review security in the region. The blasts left him with no option but to rush to the sites and the hospitals to console the injured and the grief-stricken. The attack came on the day the National Investigation Agency, hastily set up under a national Act, began its career. The message is loud and clear: terrorists, whatever their label, are out to challenge the new resolve to fight them to the finish. They have displayed the wherewithal to strike anywhere and at any time.

Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi’s admission of intelligence lapses that led to the “United Liberation Front of Asom’s” strike is a virtual admission of his incompetence. It is his responsibility to ensure that the authorities concerned who could not act on the intelligence input in time are dealt with sternly so that they never make such mistakes in future. Terrorists are known to synchronise their strikes with national holidays and other important events to make the maximum impact. This is all the more reason that the police should have been extra vigilant against terrorist attacks, particularly in view of the October blasts in Guwahati. Whether it was the handiwork of Ulfa or some other terrorist organisation is something which the police has to find out. Equally important is to determine whether the announcement by Awami League leader Sheikh Hasina that she would not allow the Bangladesh territory to be used as a terrorist sanctuary had a bearing on the attack.

The attack once again proves that the new laws and the NIA would be insufficient to deter terrorists. At the end of the day what is required is an efficient intelligence-gathering machinery and a police force that can act upon such intelligence with ruthless determination. Mumbai happened precisely because all the police and intelligence units failed to detect and deal with the 10 terrorists who landed on the seashore by simply using rubber dinghies. The blasts in Guwahati occurred because the police failed to take action in time against the terrorists, though they had prior information. The NIA, too, will fail to deliver if the states also do not galvanise their security setup and there is not enough coordination between the two.

Top

Signal from Dhaka
Hasina wants to throw out terrorists

Two highly significant statements have been made by Sheikh Hasina in her very first post-victory press conference. One, she has said that good relations with neighbours would be a major agenda of her government. That apparently means India in particular. Two, she asserted in no uncertain terms that she would not allow Bangladesh’s territory to be used for terrorism against its neighbours. That is a good beginning and keeping in view Sheikh Hasina’s track record, there is reason for optimism that she will follow up her words with action. She had herself released a report recently detailing the dangers of growing fundamentalism and terrorism in Bangladesh. Not only that, during her previous tenure, she had compelled ULFA, the NDFB and the KLO to leave Bangladesh. She had also frozen ULFA accounts in Sonali bank, which had a huge sums. Similar pro-active stance on her part can weaken the hold of terrorists in her country.

Ever since world eyes focussed on Pakistan as a terrorism hub, many of the active members have shifted base to Bangladesh and are running their nefarious activities from there. Many of the violent incidents that took place in India during the past two years had links with cells in Bangladesh. ULFA leaders too have been using the border areas of Bangladesh as their bases. They have also invested in several hotels in Dhaka, Sylhet and Chittagong. All of them will have to be ruthlessly hounded out.

Apparently, Sheikh Hasina realizes that terrorists pose a danger not only to India but also to Bangladesh. It is no secret that ULFA had given huge sums of money to several candidates belonging to the Jamaat-e-Islami and the Khaleda Zia-led Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), which unfortunately was favourably inclined towards them. It is to the credit of the Bangladeshi public that such elements were squarely defeated. The regime change may usher in an era of liberalism. In fact, her proposal of forming a South Asian task force to fight terrorism in the region merits being taken up earnestly by all countries because today the scourge threatens almost every country – including those which promoted it in the past.

Top

Poor results
Haryana schools need to pull up socks

Not too long ago, Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda vowed to make Haryana the number one state in education. But if the dismal results of the state-run schools are anything to go by, his promise was no better than empty rhetoric. The poor pass percentage of classes VIII and X in the first semester examination once again exposes the sorry state of education in the government schools. The state’s Education Secretary has blamed new examination pattern for the poor results. However, this is not the first time Haryna’s government schools have come a cropper.

The Punjab and Haryana High Court has not only rapped Haryana but also its neighbour Punjab for declining standards in the state- run schools, especially in rural areas. Many a school in Haryana have abysmally low pass percentage, some even the unenviable track record of zero pass percentage. This despite the state government claim of huge amounts being spent on education up gradation. Only recently, it has launched a Rs 185 million project to bring the government schools at par with the elite private schools. Its ambitious plans include distribution of workbooks and computer education. But the reality is in sharp contrast to the grandiose schemes. Half of the government schools are without headmasters. Lack of teachers has become a norm. The much-touted mid-day meal scheme suffers from several handicaps, ranging from fungus-infested meals to non- availability of cooked food.

The state government must remember that merely declaring 2008 as the Year of Education will not yield results. While teachers whose prime duty is to teach must be held accountable, they must be excused from extraneous assignments. In fact, there is need to rope in the best brains as educators. Children, especially the rural poor, not only have the Right to Education, but also quality education.

Top

 

Thought for the Day

It takes a village to raise a child. — African proverb

Top

ARTICLE

Rewriting the law
JPC report on office of profit a good beginning
by V. Eshwar Anand

THE Joint Parliamentary Committee Report on Office of Profit tabled in Parliament assumes special significance in the context of the controversy the issue had kicked off in 2006. The report is a good beginning to resolve the ticklish issue, though it is not the final answer. While Parliament has to enact legislation, based on the JPC report, one has to wait for the Supreme Court judgement on the constitutional validity of the Constitution (Prevention of Disqualification) Amendment Act, 2006. Obviously, the new law hinges on the Supreme Court’s adjudication of the earlier Act.

The JPC’s recommendations are just and well intended. Its chairman, Mr Iqbal Ahmed Saradgi, is a senior Congress MP from Gulbarga in Karnataka and its members include jurists such as Mr Ram Jethmalini, Mr Arun Jaitley and Dr Abhishek Manu Singhvi. It has recommended that Article 102 (1) (a) should be amended to provide that a person shall be disqualified for being chosen as, and for being a member of either House of Parliament if he/she holds any office of profit under the Central or state governments, other than an office declared by Parliament by law not to disqualify its holder.

It says that the holder of such office should not draw any salary or remuneration except for compensatory allowance in the discharge of his duties. The amendment would make it clear that a person shall not be deemed to hold an office of profit under the Central or state governments by reasons only that he is a minister at the Centre or in the state.

Significantly, the report says that advisory offices associated with purely giving counsel or recommendation to the Central or state governments on any particular subject or policy in respect of any matter of public interest or importance should be kept outside the purview of the office of profit provision.

The Saradgi committee said while examining the issue in question, the separation of executive and legislative powers should be kept in mind, this being a constitutional principle. More important, there should be no “conflict of interest” arising out of a legislator’s job as MP and as member of the executive office he holds.

As some states fear that the enactment of a suitable law on the definition of office of profit might go against the federal spirit of the Constitution, the committee said that federalism has to survive through some common denominator vis-à-vis the country as a whole. The states have the liberty to enact laws on the creation of exemptions for disqualification from offices of profit but not to define the term “office of profit” itself.

If Parliament or any state legislature feels that the definition covers an office that does not really advance the policy and purpose of the Constitution, ad hoc legislation may be resorted to for removing the disqualification in advance or on discovery, it said. In essence, the JPC emphasised the need for legislation on the office of profit to avoid controversies and to strengthen parliamentary democracy.

With the benefit of hindsight, one can now see what triggered off the controversy in 2006. Surely, things would have been different had India adopted a system of law relating to the prevention of disqualification of MPs (or MLAs) as was the case in the UK. We could have easily followed a system by which Parliament (and the state legislatures) regularly exempted a few offices from the ambit of the office-of-profit provision every year.

In the absence of legislation on the precise definition of office of profit, there was total confusion in the corridors of power in New Delhi and state capitals. Initially, the Congress camp was jubilant over the disqualification of Samajwadi Party’s Rajya Sabha MP Jaya Bachchan for simultaneously holding the post of Chairperson, Uttar Pradesh Film Development Corporation. However, there was chaos in the party when the same charge began to haunt their leader, Mrs Sonia Gandhi, MP (Rae Bareli), on the ground that she was also holding the post of Chairperson of the National Advisory Council (NAC). Mrs Gandhi promptly resigned from both the NAC and the Lok Sabha and got re-elected. (The JPC has now given her a clean chit by saying that her NAC post was not an office of profit).

Soon, Parliament and state legislatures, in tearing hurry, passed Bills exempting many posts from the purview of office of profit. But then, former President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam raised objections to the Constitution (Prevention of Disqualification) Amendment Bill, 2006 and returned it for reconsideration. Of course, he signed it when it was sent to him back. This was in strict conformity with the letter and spirit of the Constitution.

Under Article 111, the President has the power to send a Bill passed by Parliament back for reconsideration, but he cannot refuse to give his assent the second time. Clearly, the Indian Constitution, based on the Westminster model, does not envisage a largely ceremonial President to legitimately challenge the wisdom of a democratically elected legislature.

In this context, Dr Kalam’s critics may have accused him of committing “presidential overreach”, but he did make a pertinent point — the need for Parliament to enact “a uniform law that would be just, fair, reasonable and applicable to all states and Union territories”. Dr Kalam had also questioned the clause giving the controversial Bill retrospective effect and expressed his apprehension over the legality of passing the legislation exempting offices of profit that were already under the Election Commission’s scrutiny.

The Congress camp had initially brushed aside Dr Kalam’s advice as “irrelevant and impractical”. However, reports of the Election Commission’s possible initiation of disqualification proceedings against 45 MPs supporting the ruling coalition goaded the government to set up the JPC. This was the Centre’s first step towards rewriting the law in accordance with Dr Kalam’s suggestions.

Now that the JPC has submitted its report, the ball is in the government’s court. The game is not yet over. One has to also wait for the referee’s verdict. In March, the Supreme Court had reserved its judgement on the constitutional validity of the Constitution (Prevention of Disqualification) Amendment Act, 2006. The petitioners have questioned its legitimacy and charged the UPA government with enacting the law in brazen defiance of the Constitution.

The petitioners said when the law was passed with retrospective effect, about 45 sitting MPs were facing disqualification proceedings before the Election Commission. Consequently, they pleaded before the court that the Act was “wholly arbitrary and discriminatory” and was passed in undue haste to protect the members.

Defending the Act, the Centre told the apex court that the issue of exempting offices of profit by an Act of Parliament is a “settled law” requiring no further consideration. Quoting earlier rulings, Additional Solicitor-General Gopal Subramaniam said it was an accepted norm that a law could not be questioned merely because it gave retrospective effect to a proposal.

It remains to be seen whether the three-member Bench of the Supreme Court will refer the case to a larger Bench as an important question of law is involved. An early ruling will help remove confusion and act as a guideline for the Centre while framing a new law in accordance with the JPC’s recommendations.

Top

MIDDLE

The talkative Indian
by S.S. Bhatti

Professor Amartya Sen, the Nobel Laureate Economist, got it all wrong when he used the dubious term “The Argumentative Indian” in his “Writings on Indian History, Culture and Identity”. The Indian is “talkative” not “argumentative”.

The solemn and correct meaning of the verb “argue” is to discuss something in a serious way. The “argument” is thus formed by a set of reasons given in support of an opinion or action. An argument is an active part of a body of reasoning that begins in a premise, and ends in a conclusion. A premise is a statement or idea that forms the basis for an argument or a theory. In other words, this entire cerebral activity falls in the area of Logic: the science of correct reasoning.

Logic itself is one of the five major branches of Philosophy; the other four are: Metaphysics, Aesthetics, Ethics and Politics.

It should be evident to anyone sensible enough that an Indian is too lazy to take the trouble of going through the harrowing regimen of Logic to make his point in a civilised way. Laziness is the gift of tropical climate that he received at birth, and rejoices in, nonchalantly, until he leaves this Mayaic world. Ironically, however, he has enough active energy to jump to conclusions — which is the only national sport in which he can never be defeated by anyone of any other nationality.

Just the same, whenever he is tempted to exercise the faculty of reason, he produces a special brand of Logic: the Logic of convenience! When he is midway in an argument, he facilely changes his premise, provided he had one in the first place, and heads towards an entirely different conclusion, unsuspected by his opponent. If he ever feels that he may lose the war of words, he quickly draws upon the woolly profundities of mythology to win his case. And he summons his sly wit to full use to create sophistry: the art of clever but false arguments.

Or, in a no-win situation, he deploys the popular mode of argument: he switches over to angry discussion with the fellow who disagrees with him!

Having said all this, I feel secure in the thought that at least I cannot be branded as “talkative”, for, I have written, not talked about, my point of view. In this feeling of security, however, there is a lurking sense of fear. I may have worked up my countrymen to a high degree of provocation to take up cudgels with me, using their brand of logic to floor me. And they are born “talkative” with an inexhaustible wealth of energy for loquacity such that they can out-talk anyone in the world.

Against such awesome verbal weaponry a small fry like me is absolutely defenceless!

Top

OPED

Restructuring NSG
It should not be used for VIP security
by Lt Gen Raj Kadyan (retd)

A slew of measures are invariably announced after a major national catastrophe. This is done not only to improve the functioning of the establishment but also to assuage the heightened public clamour for action. The recent terror attacks in Mumbai fall in the same category.

Among the measures announced was the plan to have a number of National Security Guard (NSG) hubs in various metros.

Since it was the NSG commandos who had neutralised the terrorists at the two hotels and the Nariman House, and enjoy high public esteem, this helped soothe tempers. However, the propsal does not fully take into account the NSG role and its modus operandi.

The role of the NSG is countering terrorism; it is not an anti-terrorism force. While the former implies offensive action, the latter is only reactive and defensive. The NSG is the penultimate force to tackle a terrorist strike — the ultimate being the armed forces.

The composition of the force is a mix of deputationists from the Army as well as the Central police organisations. They are accepted in the force after a stringent selection process. Thereafter they are imparted training on specialised skills and techniques.

The required facilities and infrastructure for this special training have been created in their permanent location at Manesar (Haryana).

The Army members form the main strike element, the Special Action Group, and the CPO component provides the close cordon and plays the supportive role.

The NSG is not, and should never be, the port of first call. Whenever an incident occurs, the local administration must first utilise its own resources to tackle the situation. Only when they find it to be beyond their means, and requiring a specialised force, is the NSG to be called.

On arrival, the NSG must be briefed in detail by the host authorities. Deatiled maps of the site and all known details should be given to them. They do their own reconnaissance and firm up their plans.

A joint control room is set up, possibly at the nearest police station, where the necessary facilities already exist. The situation is then handed over to the NSG.

It should be mandatory for the area of operations to be placed under curfew to keep away curious on-lookers, the media and the like, who may pose hindrance in the conduct of operations.

Prima facie, this was not done in Mumbai. After the operation is completed, the local authorities resume control of the area and take the necessary follow-up action like caring for the wounded etc.

The delay in their coming into play can be caused on three accounts: decision-making and conveying to them the orders to move, their physical movement and the essential preliminaries on arrival at the target.

The NSG is a crucial national resource and is meant to be deployed in situations having national ramifications requiring emergency action. The chain of command must, therefore, be short with minimum links.

To avoid bureaucratic delays, they must be controlled directly by the Cabinet Secretariat, if not by the PMO. In the existing setup, they are a Home Ministry force. This is not the best arrangement.

The Home Ministry is a huge labyrinth that includes under its domain myriad CPOs and has slow and sluggish work procedures.

The NSG gets the same priority as others. Even in the procurement and provisioning of the required inventory, the chain and speed are far from satisfactory and not in keeping with their philosophy of rapid action.

The period of deployment can be further pruned by allocating dedicated aircraft to the NSG. These should be kept in runway readiness all the time.This would avoid the delay in herding the aircraft from other sources as happened during the instant case and as is the practice presently in vogue.

Even on arrival, depending on the actual place of their action and its relative location vis-a-vis the airport, they might need helicopters that must be positioned before hand.

From the point of time of deployment they can reach anywhere in India from their present location during the time in which they would be required. In case of confirmed intelligence, they can always be flown in to the place in anticipation, to be readily available.

There is a case to have a liaison cell of the NSG in different metros. This small nucleus, comprising NSG personnel, should have direct communication to their parent base. Whenever the NSG is put on alert, they would start collecting all the information that (they know) the NSG would need on arrival.

This would reduce preparatory time after arrival of the force. This liaison cell will also ensure that local transport — road vehicles or helicopters — are kept in readiness before the NSG arrives.

It is imperative that the NSG being a counter-terrorism force is not given protection duties. Unfortunately, this is not happening in practice. A protective ring of the famed ‘Black Cats’ around one’s person has become a status symbol for many VIPs.

The situation would become worse if the hubs are created in different stations. The local state authorities will consider the NSG hub as their private resource and will not only ask for their deployment at the proverbial drop of a hat, but there may also be a clamour for them to protect the local VIPs.

Knowing how our system functions, the Centre may find it difficult to turn down such requests, especially if a state is ruled by a different political party.

Putting them on VIP security duties is a criminal misuse of the force and must be ruthlessly curbed. Once that happens, their existing strength is adequate for them to undertake all the assessed tasks that fall within its assigned role.

This is not to say that our VIPs do not need security; they certainly do. For this, we need to raise another dedicated force that can, if necessary, be trained by the NSG. The present system of dual tasking of the NSG for this purpose must be avoided.

The NSG operatives require specialised and regular training to keep their skills in high order. This is only possible when the conduct of training and its supervision are centralised. In a scattered deployment, as in the case of the proposed hubs, the quality of training will undoubtedly stand diluted.

Their existing strength and their present location are fine, if they are correctly utilised as per their charter and role. Their deployment time can be shortened by placing them directly under the NSA, giving them dedicated aircraft and creating NSG liaison cells in required stations.

The writer was the founding Chief Instructor of the NSG

Top

Corruption has made Egypt powerless
by Robert Fisk

There was a day when we worried about the “Arab masses” – the millions of “ordinary” Arabs on the streets of Cairo, Kuwait, Amman, Beirut – and their reaction to the constant bloodbaths in West Asia. Could Anwar Sadat restrain the anger of his people? And now – after three decades of Hosni Mubarak – can Mubarak (or “La Vache Qui Rit”, as he is still called in Cairo) restrain the anger of his people?

The answer, of course, is that Egyptians and Kuwaitis and Jordanians will be allowed to shout in the streets of their capitals – but then they will be shut down, with the help of the tens of thousands of secret policemen and government militiamen who serve the princes and kings and elderly rulers of the Arab world.

Egyptians demand that Mubarak open the Rafah crossing-point into Gaza, break off diplomatic relations with Israel, even send weapons to Hamas. And there is a kind of perverse beauty in listening to the response of the Egyptian government: why not complain about the three gates which the Israelis refuse to open?

And anyway, the Rafah crossing-point is politically controlled by the four powers that produced the “road map” for peace, including Britain and the US. Why blame Mubarak?

To admit that Egypt can’t even open its sovereign border without permission from Washington tells you all you need to know about the powerlessness of the satraps that run the Middle East for us.

Open the Rafah gate – or break off relations with Israel – and Egypt’s economic foundations crumble. Any Arab leader who took that kind of step will find that the West’s economic and military support is withdrawn.

Without subventions, Egypt is bankrupt. Of course, it works both ways. Individual Arab leaders are no longer going to make emotional gestures for anyone. When Sadat flew to Jerusalem – “I am tired of the dwarves,” he said of his fellow Arab leaders – he paid the price with his own blood at the Cairo reviewing-stand where one of his own soldiers called him a “Pharaoh” before shooting him dead.

The true disgrace of Egypt, however, is not in its response to the slaughter in Gaza. It is the corruption that has become embedded in an Egyptian society where the idea of service – health, education, genuine security for ordinary people – has simply ceased to exist.

It’s a land where the first duty of the police is to protect the regime, where protesters are beaten up by the security police, where young women objecting to Mubarak’s endless regime – likely to be passed on caliph-like to his son Gamal, whatever we may be told – are sexually molested by plain-clothes agents, where prisoners in the Tora-Tora complex are forced to rape each other by their guards.

There has developed in Egypt a kind of religious facade in which the meaning of Islam has become effaced by its physical representation. Egyptian civil “servants” are often scrupulous in their religious observances – yet they tolerate and connive in rigged elections, violations of the law and prison torture.

A young American doctor described to me recently how in a Cairo hospital busy doctors merely blocked doors with plastic chairs to prevent access to patients. In November, the Egyptian newspaper Al-Masry al-Youm reported how doctors abandoned their patients to attend prayers during Ramadan.

And amid all this, Egyptians have to live amid daily slaughter by their own shabby infrastructure. Alaa al-Aswani wrote eloquently in the Cairo paper Al-Dastour that the regime’s “martyrs” outnumber all the dead of Egypt’s wars against Israel – victims of railway accidents, ferry sinkings, the collapse of city buildings, sickness, cancers and pesticide poisonings – all victims, as Aswani says, “of the corruption and abuse of power”.

Opening the Rafah border-crossing for wounded Palestinians – the Palestinian medical staff being pushed back into their Gaza prison once the bloodied survivors of air raids have been dumped on Egyptian territory – is not going to change the midden in which Egyptians themselves live.

Sayed Hassan Nasrallah, the Hizbollah secretary general in Lebanon, felt able to call on Egyptians to “rise in their millions” to open the border with Gaza, but they will not do so. Ahmed Aboul Gheit, the feeble Egyptian Foreign Minister, could only taunt the Hizbollah leaders by accusing them of trying to provoke “an anarchy similar to the one they created in their own country.”

But he is well-protected. So is President Mubarak. Egypt’s malaise is in many ways as dark as that of the Palestinians. Its impotence in the face of Gaza’s suffering is a symbol of its own political sickness.

— By arrangement with The Independent

Top

Inside Pakistan
Extremism: no respite in sight
by Syed Nooruzzaman

Pakistan is unable to ensure that its writ runs in most parts of the tribal areas. Bomb blasts, cases of extortion, kidnappings and other such incidents involving religious extremists continue to be reported frequently.

The alarming situation forced the NWFP Provincial Assembly to hold a week-long discussion on the subject. However, it could not make the government come out with any concrete plan to successfully handle the crisis, according to The Frontier Post.

The ANP government was criticised for its indifference despite people in many parts of the province staging demonstrations and demanding its resignation because of the deepening law and order crisis. According to a report in Business Recorder, the business community announced a two-day shutter-down strike in Peshawar on Wednesday, accusing the government of its failure to normalise law and order, so essential for any kind of economic activity.

The extremists were the least bothered about what was being debated in the House. The Tehrik-e-Taliban in Swat issued a decree banning the entry of women in the valley’s main business centre, Swari, for shopping purposes. They also threatened the dealers of music-related items like video and audio cassettes to close down their shops and look for some other business otherwise they would be killed.

As an editorial in The News International says, “the army and paramilitary forces were making no headway in Swat, Bajaur or anywhere for that matter and there is a real possibility that the New Year could see an extension of the influence of extremism to the rest of the country.”

Q. Khan’s economic tips

The News International carried an interesting article on December 31 by the father of Pakistan’s nuclear bomb, Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan. There is no mention at the end of the piece that he is the same person, but after reading the article one is left with no doubt about the identity of the writer. In any case, he needs no introduction, particularly in Pakistan.

He does not talk much of what he did to make Pakistan a nuclear power. But he criticises the regime led by President Asif Ali Zardari in a subtle manner. In his opinion, Pakistan did not have an able Finance Minister after Ghulam Ishaq Khan, a man credited with “vast reading and knowledge”. It is a different matter that this “successful Finance Minister” made a mess of the democratic set-up when he rose to become the President of Pakistan.

Dr Khan praises India by saying: “In our neighbourhood, look at the credentials of Dr Manmohan Singh and compare it to our people, who often don’t have any degree in finance.”

How he views the financial management of his country is explained thus: “We turn our banking clerks into financial wizards and economists overnight. In Pakistan, bankers usually collect money at low interest rates and lend at higher rates. When the kitty is nearly empty, the financial wizard has a quick fix: raise taxes on oil, gas, food items, diesel, ghee, sugar, etc, and, lo and behold! a few billion rupees are made in a few weeks. The so-called strict regulation by the State Bank on giving loans is a farce. We recently saw the shocking example of how influential borrowers had almost $800 million written off with a stroke of the pen. Similar actions were taken during Gen Zia-ul-Haq’s time.”

Going by what he says, it is not surprising if “inflation is projected to be around 20 per cent as against the initial target of only 11 per cent…” as given by Business Recorder. The GDP growth rate is expected to be 3.5 per cent during the current fiscal year against 7 per cent last year.

Energy crisis

Pakistan’s poor economic management has led to a serious energy crisis. It is “effectively negating the capacity of the industrial sector to increase the output”, as Business Standard says in an economic analysis. The acute power shortage is adding to social tensions too.

According to Dawn, “The energy shortage is worsening by the day, in fact, by the hour. The average duration of rolling power blackouts has more than doubled to 18 hours a day of late, from eight hours in the summer. This is the situation despite the reduction of 6,000 MW in demand from the summer peak of 17,000 MW. Domestic and industrial consumers in Punjab and the NWFP are facing gas supply cuts due to a widening supply-demand gap.”

The economic downturn can, therefore, further aggravate leading to widespread unemployment.

Top

 





HOME PAGE | Punjab | Haryana | Jammu & Kashmir | Himachal Pradesh | Regional Briefs | Nation | Opinions |
| Business | Sports | World | Letters | Chandigarh | Ludhiana | Delhi |
| Calendar | Weather | Archive | Subscribe | Suggestion | E-mail |